Why are students and millennials increasingly left-wing?

The popular conception of millennials in the conservative imagination is that they are a bunch of over-sensitive, politically correct crybabies. Young people are often referred to as ‘snowflakes’, that is, people who think they’re so special and unique, rather than simply being just like everyone else. Universities are seen as places where freedom of expression is under attack- where anyone who espouses traditional, conservative or nationalistic attitudes risks being shut down, ‘no-platformed’ or de-invited. Students are more concerned with being seen as well-meaning and tolerant than with the truth.  They feel entitled to a state-subsidised education and government handouts, without a proper sense of patriotism and responsibility towards wider society.

As a millennial, I have to admit that the conservative critique of our generation is not without merit. We millennials, particularly those lucky enough to attend university, think too much in terms of personal interest, and not enough about the broader consequences of what we believe in. For example, most students believe that higher education ought to be free. Now this policy may benefit students, but would it really be good for the country? Taxes would have to be raised, and the money would benefit graduates, who tend to be a fair bit richer than non-graduates. In other words, a policy intended to be progressive would be in reality, anything but.

Millennials are also guilty of fostering a culture of outrage. Dare to question the merits of the welfare state, gay marriage, mass immigration or pacifism, and young people will often become uncontrollably angry. Rather than engaging with the implications of what you may be proposing, they will engage in ad hominem attacks on you as a racist, sexist, homophobe etc. And while it’s true that some people’s views are motivated by prejudice, it’s important to give people the benefit of the doubt and believe in innocent until proven guilty.

More importantly, many millennials are unable to see any value in conservative ideas. Notions of hierarchy, order, tradition, a strong central authority and divinely-inspired morality are dismissed out of hand. Without a proper understanding of how conservatives, particularly older conservatives think, millennials are in danger of talking over their opponents, instead of seeking to persuade them. The lack of intellectual curiosity amongst some young progressives is at times astounding.

The problem with left-wing millennials ultimately comes down to wanting to be seen as the underdog: the little people fighting the authoritarian establishment. In a world where everyone wants to be seen as a victim, no one will stand up for the status quo. Combined with an increasing sensitivity towards minorities, the result is a toxic culture of playing the victim- a competition to be the most oppressed. Very few millennials will wear their privilege as a badge of honour.

Having said all that, conservatives need to understand the structural causes of my generation’s leftward drift. A slowing economy, increasingly unaffordable housing, tough competition for graduate jobs and few prospects for non-graduates have radicalised people who ought to embrace capitalism’s innovative and liberating qualities. More significantly, the young have moved left in reaction to the old moving right. While our elders used to defend liberalism, the international world order and globalisation, they now embrace Trump, Brexit, and a variety of right-wing authoritarian movements all over the developed world. America is the clearest example of this. It’s unsurprising millennial students call for the abolition of ICE when it forces parents apart from their children. It’s equally expected for young Britons to vote for a veteran socialist when the alternative is a party that has deported British citizens and compared the EU to the Soviet Union.

If we’re not careful, the generational divide could make our societies ungovernable. Partly as a result of it, it’s becoming harder for anyone to win over a convincing majority of voters. I very much doubt America will ever see a landslide presidential election of the scale of Reagan’s victory in 1984. In Germany and Spain, the two main parties are in decline, and in France and Italy, they have become virtually obsolete.

There are no easy answers to any of this, but I have a few suggestions. Young people should worry less about how offensive their views are, and instead focus on their practical implications. Universities should prioritise free speech and a diversity of opinions above the perception of prejudice. The older generations should try to understand why the young feel marginalised and not listened to. And the wealthy, both young and old, need to stop advocating for regressive state subsidies which the poor will have to pay for. The generational divide won’t ever be closed. But with a proactive dialogue and a willingness to listen, it can certainly be narrowed.

Social media sours the soul

“There’s no such thing as the season of goodwill when it comes to political debate on social media. It’s all about fury and outrage. Even when tweets are funny, you can taste the “anger inside the sugar coating of smug satire”. Rage is contagious – it spreads like an infection across online forums, which have a vested interest in stoking it. It’s part of what has been dubbed the “outrage economy”. Shrill, divisive opinions attract eyeballs and yield a “double payoff” for publishers and platforms, as posts are then shared by people who both agree and violently disagree with them. Sharers come to enjoy, even grow addicted to, this easy way of displaying righteous indignation.

“And so the cycle of provocation continues”, as people yield to the temptation to correct perceived wrongness with “a caustic retort” online and one side’s scratch becomes “the other side’s itch”. Any sense of empathy or curiosity is lost in the “riotous rhetoric of online dispute”. We can’t do without our devices, but now and then we desperately need to log off for a few days to regain a sense of perspective.” (Rafael Behr, The Guardian)

Which is why this blog, while pointing up disagreeable and worrying trends, tries to argue quietly and and interperse the serious stuff with the occasional poem or tongue-in-cheek observation, even a joke. Successful approach? I have no idea! All that can be said is that either the crass and vulgar haven’t found this blog, or that the tone and the philosophy of consideration and kindness can be ignored by the extremists and anonymous haters ….so far. They are probably indifferent to Epicureanism and attempted reason in any case. But suggestions about the approach are welcome.

Brexit – a perspective from Brussels

“In Brussels, EU ambassadors were sufficiently worried to convene an ‘emergency’ no deal meeting at the European Commission, with a rejection by British MPs of any Brexit deal being openly discussed for the first time. There is also a nagging fear that the European Parliament, always eager to muscle into the political arena in Brussels, could reject the deal.

“As with any negotiation, posturing plays a big part in trying to win the other side around to your position. However the economic shock from a genuine no deal would be a catastrophic for all sides, with global repercussions.

“The UK is producing a series of notices on the effect of no deal on the UK and the challenges that it will pose. On the EU side Ireland, France and Belgium would be the worst hit and if no aviation deal can be struck that contamination would be far more widespread. The UK government hinted this week that flights to the Continent would be affected. Cyprus, Malta, Spain & Portugal potentially face a summer holiday season without British tourists. For Malta, nearly 90 percent of their summer visitors come from the UK so such a scenario could be economically devastating.

“Yet no deal is certainly a possibility, given the challenging parliamentary arithmetic in the House of Commons and the splits on Brexit that run deeply within both major UK parties. So getting a withdrawal agreement that MPs will back looks to be a real challenge. Westminster passed an amendment in July that effectively renders the EU’s backstop plan for Northern Ireland illegal as it would create an internal border within the UK. Any deal would need to avoid impinging on this point, even though the EU is currently insisting on it.”

(I receive Brexit update newsletters from Mr.Daniel Dalton, a British Member of the European Parliament. The above is a short excerpt from the latest newsletter, which reflects the view from Brussels. Information only)

A little light relief

The Comma

I’d like to take a bomber
And drop bombs upon the comma,
Whose phrase attenuation
Is the bane of punctuation.
I always use too many;
In my prose they’re ten a penny,
While a lawyer, rather direly,
Has abolished them entirely.
A comma alters, meaning
Is the goal to which I’m leaning.
The comma’s like a word or tense,
Change it and you change the sense.
Omit it and you must work out
What the prose is all about.
The semi-colon is a snare:
How to use it, when and where?
But I am truly disconcerted
When the comma is inverted.
Use the single or the double?
Bound to get you into trouble.
To place quote marks within quotations
Can cause a war between two nations.
It’s all a little much for me.
And so I’ll let the reader pout
And grimace, and just sort it out.

By Robert Hanrott, from “The Rueful Hippopotamus”, available
from Amazon in the US and Europe

Kavanaugh and the politics will pass; Epicureanism will not

While thinking of a theme for today my first inclination was to join just about every news and media outlet (possibly) in the world, and comment on the Kavanaugh hearings. Then I read the Washington Post and realized that practically all the journalists on that paper had commented, and that about 95% of the edition was given over to the hearings. Overload!

So instead I want to raise the issues of love, tenderness, consideration, generosity, empathy and friendship. In short, modern Epicureanism.

Fearing a very bad long-term outcome of the current divisions all over the world, and especially on my own doorstep, I want to put in a plea to the small knots of still-sensitive people, whom I am confident still exist, even if they feel demoralised. I am not necessarily suggesting some sort of commune, or gathering in literal Epicurean gardens. What I am advocating is living one’s life constantly conscious of setting a good example to children (especially), but also to friends and to everyone one comes across, whatever their station in life, thir origin or their income:

* Politeness at all times
* Interest in other people and an opportunity for them to talk about their problems
*. Consideration for their difficulties
*. Generosity both of spirit and in terms of gifts of worldly goods to the less fortunate
* Empathy for other people
* Treating others as human beings, not just “employees”, “contractors” or “consumers”
* Rejection of greed, careerism and ambition
*. the cultivation of a sense of humour.
*. A commitment to treat everone as an equal, deserving respect.

Aim for the idea that, when you have visitors for whatever reason, they leave thinking, “Yes, there is love in that house”.

Please write and suggest additions that will help ensure that civilised, kind and thoughtful behaviour survives the current culture. We must stay positive!

Taking away the rights of British citizens

“I’m one of the 1.8 million British citizens living in mainland Europe; no deal will have a devastating impact on us. And it is our government, not our EU hosts, that will be stripping us of our right to continue living and working here.

“Much as we’d love to hide on 30 March 2019, hoping no one here will notice that we have become “third country nationals” (who may or may not be granted a work permit, depending on whether a local can do our job), alas, that’s not going to work. Which is why we need you to focus on the 1.8 million British citizens (60% of whom were not allowed to vote in the referendum) who will be left with no rights, no representation nor any means of redress if “our own” British government continues down the path to no deal”.
Georgina Tate, Brussels, Belgium

I sympathise. As far as I can establish, British citizens will be allowed to stay on, but not move to another country. Aside from that, I can’t establish whether the payment of pensions to British subjects in the EU, and their bank accounts with British banks operating there, is resolved. It looks as if British people will not be able to draw money or make deposits into banks of British origin, since the latter will not be authorised to operate in the EU.

The hard right, who are angling for a quick, hard exit, has no incentive to help those who live and work in the EU. The latter are people who are, by definition, mainly pro-EU. The hard righr hope for a social revolution, with a governmdnt of the “deserving rich” and absolutely everything privatized for the financial benefit of you know who………

Something other than judicial coups and politics

Epicureanism was the world’s first ‘green’ philosophy. When people turn to the ancient therapeutic philosophies, or arts of life, they tend to look to resolute Stoicism for succor. But Epicureanism, which insists that we learn to be happy with less, is a better fit with the anxieties du jour.

The reason Epicureanism is not often mentioned in this context is that for more than two thousand years it has been misunderstood. Today Epicureanism is regarded as a form of gastronomic connoisseurship. In antiquity it was the exact opposite.

Epicurus (341-270 BC) abandoned the city of Athens for a house and garden outside its walls. The communards who followed him adopted the pleasure principle as their guide: the purpose of life is to maximise pleasure. But they understood pleasure not as the fulfillment of desire so much as its rational mastery. The richest pleasure of all, Epicurus believed, was freedom from suffering. “By pleasure,” he insisted, “we mean the absence of pain in the body and trouble in the soul.”

(Part of a paper by Luke Slattery, a Sydney-based writer, and an honorary associate in the University of Sydney’s department of Classics and Ancient History)

Turkey regresses

For many years Turks were very pro-Western. Indeed, they considered themselves part of the West. But, maybe, partly because the EU members baulked at Turkish EU membership and the cultural upheaval it might cause, Turkey is undergoing its own cultural upheaval, where the authorities are insisting on ethnic, religious and historical distinctness from the West. Secularism fades as the number of religious schools rises. Evolution is disappearing from the curriculum, and the objective in schools is to raise “a pious generation”. The Turkey of Kemal Ataturk is disappearing, and the country is sliding back into xenophobia and chauvinism. Rapprochement with a newly resurgent Russia is threatening NATO.

An historian once postulated that religions have surges and fall-backs. Islam surged under the Prophet, of course, fell back during the later middle ages, had a surge (into Western Europe/ Vienna) in the 17th Century, fell back under Western colonialism, and has been surging back with a vengeance recently, maybe under the threat of technologies it cannot combat. For whatever reason, the fact is that, hidden from our sight there are tens of thousands of Turks who passionately support and defend pluralistic democracy. There is a dicotomy in Turkey between the modern West of the country and the mass of Anatolia, which never really accepted the changes Kemal Ataturk made. Two countries, really.

I remember a conversation with a young Turkish businessman on a plane trip. He told me that he and his friends bought into Western ways in toto. His English was perfect and he loved visiting London. But, he said, travel a hundred miles east of Istanbul and it is like time travel back into the 13th Century.

What are we doing to support these educated, Westernised Turks (who haven’t been bullied or arrested)? Trump will do nothing – he is frightened of moslems; terrorists, don’t you know.
We should offer them a safe home in the West – they would be an economic asset.

Are American men in crisis?

According to some commentators, American men are in crisis. For Democrats declining workforce participation rates, rising suicide rates and increasing drug use are symptomatic of an economy that is too weak and rigid to offer men the opportunity they need to thrive. Republicans prefer to focus on social causes of men’s woes: the rise of feminism, the decline of the man as the chief breadwinner, the decline of marriage and family responsibility, and a culture that increasingly insists masculinity is ‘toxic.’

It’s certainly the case that the ever-radical nature of modern-day feminism can make the notion of men as victims taboo. Too often it is assumed that because women have faced gender discrimination on a scale and intensity that men haven’t, men cannot face particular challenges of their own. America ought to be mature enough to recognise that both men and women face different hardships. Starting arguments on which is the more oppressed sex isn’t helpful when trying to make good policy.

It’s also the case that many American men feel purposeless and lost in the modern world. With the decline of traditional manufacturing and resource extraction jobs, men often find it hard to navigate the new economy. Being unable to provide for their families can rob a man of his pride. American men are more likely to commit suicide, more likely to be involved in a crime, more likely to take drugs or abuse alcohol, and are certainly far more likely to be addicted to porn. The 2016 presidential election had an unusually large gender gap, and for good reason. Trump spoke to the men who feel uneasy with the direction America is headed. Conversely, Hilary Clinton was the archetype of the sort of woman who loves modern America: wealthy, college educated, socially liberal, feminist, at ease with America’s ethnic transformation.

Having said that, the conservatives who seek to blame feminism and/or liberalism as the primary causes of men’s plight are deeply mistaken. Empowering women does not come at the expense of men. Female labour force participation rates have risen considerably over the past fifty years, yet men’s wages continue to increase unabated. American feminism, at least outside the most radical college campuses, does not view masculinity as evil, so long as it does not come at the expense of women’s freedom.

Rather, men are suffering from a lack of personal responsibility. Increasingly, they blame women for unsuccessful marriages or failed relationships, instead of self-reflecting at their own faults. They turn to substance abuse and junk food, instead of taking responsibility for their own health. And rather than re-educating themselves to adapt to the modern economy, they drop out of school or college, and then blame politicians for changes to the economy beyond anyone’s control. Due to the increasing importance of knowledge-based services, and the increasing number of highly educated, career-orientated women, men can no longer simply be mediocre at school, and then expect the jobs and the women to come to them. It takes time, effort and forward planning to be successful. And partly thanks to the #metoo movement, old-school chivalry is making a comeback.

I understand that some social and economic changes America has experienced haven’t been to men’s benefit. But the men’s rights movements, and other right-wing phenomena that make men out to be hapless victims of middle-class feminism, are completely deluded. American men ought to take responsibility, work hard, be courteous and respectful, and seize the opportunities the modern world affords. And with a bit of determination, they can build careers, relationships and families to be proud of.

Over-diagnosis in medicine

Sometimes it can be better to do nothing.

Some in the American medical profession are concerned about the dangers of overzealous medicine. There has been a trend towards detecting health problems too early, convincing healthy people they are sick, and treating them too aggressively.

The latest research, published in December in the Journal of the American Medical Association, is a pointer. It found that in US hospital regions with high rates of CT scans – which are typically ordered to check the lungs and abdomen – many more kidneys are removed. Doctors can see the kidneys too, and often stumble on innocuous cancers that are never going to bother the patient. 1 in 50 of those who undergo the surgery die within a month.

With biomedical companies designing ever more tests, such as breath-tests for cancer, the problem is only going to worsen. A person who presents with, say hoarseness of voice, gets a CT scan that finds a minor tumor somewhere else in the body, which might merit close watching over a period, but is promptly removed in unrelated surgery.

Cancers can grow quickly and some slowly; some even vanish on their own. There are the cancers, which have already spread before tests notice them, and cancers that can be treated before they spread if caught early – and cancers that never spread at all. A new test (liquid biopsy) will tell you that you have cancer, somewhere, but can’t tell you where. This then poses question, ”How many fruitless tests will you have to go through to find the growth that may never do you any harm?”

Take breast cancer: some doctors think mammograms are over-used. Screening in the US has found many non-progressing breast cancers, but has helped very little in catching fast-progressing cancers early on. Among 1000 women who are screened every year for a decade from the age of 50, roughly one will avoid death through breast cancer, more than 500 will have at least one false alarm and 10 will be treated needlessly. Meanwhile, women are naturally anxious as they wait for a biopsy and about the risk of undergoing chemotherapy for a cancer that is basically benign. (Based on an article by Wendy Glauser, New Scientist)

There is a temptation to blame the medical profession alone for over-diagnosis. After all, they have, in America (in contrast to Europe), a heavy financial incentive to treat as much as possible. But the truth is more complicated. Many (not all!) patients, too, want to treat every condition they are subject to. A huge part of Medicare expenditure is given over to treating a small number of rich, old people to keep them alive, come what may. It must be hard to say “no”. Do people want doctors to deal just with pressing, acute problems, or use the modern power of medical technology to search diligently for something, anything, wrong? I fear – the latter. And up go the premiums!

Epicureanism and how to treat others

A propos my comments on Judge Kavanagh and how a gentleman could have replied to the sexual allegations, I fear drop-dead insensitivity seems to have spread from small, powerful groups of badly brought-up human beings to other parts of the population.

Yesterday, I received a phone call asking me to spend 15 minutes on a hospital survey. I have just undergone a major piece of surgery, am continuously exhausted, still in pain, rely on my wife for mostly everything, and have had less than 12 hours sleep in the past week. Would I take a survey on the hospital experience?

NO!

Now had the survey-taker started off, “I gather you have had a major operation at X Hospital. I’m so sorry. I hope the operation has been a success, you were well treated and are starting to feel a bit better. I wonder if you are up to helping us with a survey that might make the hospital experience better for everyone? If not, I understand”. Had the woman started off in this vein I would have cooperated. But I told her, ”This is not your personal fault, but it is too early, I have no perspective on the experience, am not in good shape, and I consider the timing premature, if not insensitive. No, thank you.”

What has this to do with Epicureanisnm? EMPATHY! plus sensitivity and an understanding of how to handle people tactfully, not bludgeon them and get their backs up. This no longer seems to be understood in some quarters, which is why we have to fight back against the people who are 110% invested in themselves alone, and their objectives, and have little time for working out how real human beings feel and how to win them over.

“Taking back control” in Britain

The endless battles over Brexit mean that few politicians are “seriously engaged” in thinking about “how the world might look after our departure”. It’s time they started. “Simmering resentment with the power of Whitehall” could well ensure that it becomes the next target of “a growing urge to take back control”. In terms of taxes, the UK is by far the most centralised country in the Western world: only about 5% of tax revenues are raised locally, compared with nearly three times that amount in France, and a near 50-50 split in Canada and the US between federal and municipal taxes. Campaigners want change, arguing that “true local power requires the devolution of tax and spending to go hand in hand”, and that local government should also be handed “substantial regulatory control”. At present, local discretion over policies, from land planning to public health, is minimal, “and the ability to liberalise, rather than tighten, rules is almost non-existent”. No wonder we are seeing a “popular rebellion against opaque and concentrated political power”: we need “a new constitutional deal within the United Kingdom”. (Mark Littlewood, The Times, August 2018)

Amen to that! The rot started with Thatcher, who objected to a local democracy that diluted her power. Since her time things have become steadily worse, until it is barely worthwhile standing for local councils because they have no influence. The power has passed to the rich and the corporations, and to a giddying succession of incompetent Whitehall ministers.

It is.time for the people to seize back control. Unfortunately, assuming that Brexit goes through (this week’s Salzburg EU meeting suggests the real threat of “no deal”, mainly over the status of Northern Ireland), it is more likely that an extremist right-wing Tory cabal will attempt to seize power and centralise even further. The British people expressed dissatisfaction with the status quo in the Brexit referendum. Unfortunately they were voting on the wrong issue with the wrong government in charge. The problem isn’t Brussels; it is London.

Ave Epicurus ( a short run-down on Epicureanism)

Dear Editor:

Brian Dougall’s article ‘Epicureanism: The Hobo Test’ in Issue 98 is more a caricature than accurately characterizing Epicurus and his philosophy. Dougall concludes that anyone trying to live a pain-free, pleasurable existence would end up a hobo, the implication being such an ambition is not realistic or even possible in today’s world.

However, Epicurus was really the self-help guru for the ancient world. Through his philosophy he tried to help relieve peoples’ anxieties about pain, death, and religion. Like many of his philosophical contemporaries, he sought what was called ataraxia: a state of ease, peace, and tranquility. He thought that by ridding ourselves of pain we naturally bring on a state of pleasure. He was no wild-eyed hedonist, though, and thought that friendship was the greatest pleasure. Despite what the term ‘epicurean’ has come to mean today, fancy food and wild sex were not on his menu. He thought that simple pleasures were best, and the easiest to obtain. He wrote that morality was mostly dependent on time, place, and circumstance, and that it was largely an agreement among people in society not to harm each other. But pleasure was basically good and what characterized having a pleasant life. Moreover, he believed that atoms were the basis of the material world, but that personal freedom was a possibility insofar as we could understand our nature and be in accord with it.

Epicurus was one of the most popular philosophers of the classical world, perhaps the most popular philosopher for both Greeks and Romans. Many of his works were discovered in the ruins of the library of the Roman city of Herculaneum, which was destroyed, along with Pompei, by the eruption of Vesuvius in 79 AD. The Romans enjoyed their pleasures, and greatly esteemed the Greek philosopher who told them it was perfectly alright to do so.
(by Allan Saltzman, Hamden, Connecticut, published in Philosophy Now magazine 2018)

Judge Kavanagh

Any decent gentleman who is not guilty, faced with an allegation that, as a teenager, he treated a young girl in a way that came close to rape, would respond as follows:

“I have read your account of the incident that you endured as a teenager, and I am terribly sorry that you had to go through such a harrowing and scary experience. It sounds dreadful. When we are young we do stupid things, but your treatment was callous and totally unacceptable at any age. But it wasn’t me and forcing myself on a woman is not who I am. Suffice it to say, I have no recollection whatsoever of any such party or any such incident, and can only extend my sympathy to you.”

Instead, Judge Kavanagh responded to the charges with a brutal denial that illustrates his total lack of empathy and his exclusive preoccupation with himself and his career. In showing this absence of empathy he will be forever looked upon as an overgrown frat boy and a bully, and someone who has no business judging anyone else at any level of jurisprudence.

The scandal in the Catholic church goes from bad to overwhelming

In an interview published on Wednesday evening by Religion Digital, the religious portal of the Spanish-language news site Periodista Digital, Cardinal Maradiaga once again strongly criticized Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò for having gone public about McCarrick’s sexual predations and the protection the Cardinal received from the highest spheres in the Vatican, especially since Pope Francis was elected to the See of Peter and trusted the American prelate (that is McCarrick) to help him choose new cardinals for the Church in the USA.

Asked to comment about Viganò’s call on the Pope to resign, Maradiaga answered: “It does not seem correct to me to transform something that is of the private order into bombshell headlines exploding all over the world and whose shrapnel is hurting the faith of many. I think this case of an administrative nature should have been made public in accordance with more serene and objective criteria, not with the negative charge of deeply bitter expressions”.

Coming from Maradiaga, the head of the “C9” Council of Cardinals commissioned to help reform the Church and also a close friend of Francis, as Religion Digital takes care to underscore, it is a statement in which every word counts. If homosexual activity on the part of a top member of the Church’s hierarchy such as McCarrick is a purely private matter that only needs to be managed at the administrative level, than it surely cannot be as bad as traditional believers are making out.

Misconduct of a private order – note that Maradiaga does not use the word “sin,” nor does he speak of priests’ grave obligation to live chastely as celibates – is something that should be taken care of outside the public eye, with at best confession and absolution and perhaps a private reprimand. Troubling the public order is what happens when crimes and lesser offences break criminal law as such. Only then do public authorities and representatives of the judiciary intervene to have the offender punished in the name of the public good.

“The logic is quite clear: sexual abuse on minors, or at least adolescents who, because of their age, are not capable of agreeing to consensual relations is one thing, but having sexual relationships of whatever nature with adults is another, private matter. It is wrong, no doubt, but should not be made a fuss of and belongs to the internal forum. Where there is no penal crime, why should the Church see a transgression with dire consequences for its own Body?”

Maradiaga’s minimizing of sexual misconduct, and of the perverting of seminarians and priests by a predator who is in a position of authority over them, is another sign that homosexual acts between consenting adults are in some circles no longer being regarded as a great evil that sullies the Church but as, at most, unfortunate falls comparable to other ordinary and widespread sins – disorders that a bit of paperwork will set right. It is another way of demanding silence.” (excerpted from Lifesite News)

I think the words reported by this very senior (liberal?) Cardinal are truly shocking and lacking any empathy or sensitivity to the youngsters subjected to unwanted sexual interference. Talk about digging for your own obsolescence! And yesterday a new abuse scandal erupted in the Netherlands!

Should Epicureans have children?

Awhile ago, I wrote piece on how Epicureans should raise children. Robert has made his own contributions on the subject, which can be read here. Today, I thought I would address something altogether more fundamental: whether Epicureans should be having children at all.

From what I can gather from my research, Epicurus disapproved of marriage and therefore having children, apart from in exceptional circumstances for certain people. Marriage and having children were said to cause unnecessary pain and anxiety, though there was no blanket prohibition. But since Epicurus’ views on the matter are vague, somewhat utilitarian (like much of Epicurean ethics) and not well-known, I think it’s fair to reassess the moral worth of having children in the modern age.

The first thing to mention is that no one has a duty to have children, contrary to what many religious teachers claim. Anyone who tries to shame those who don’t or can’t have children, as Andrea Leadsom did to Theresa May during the 2016 Conservative leadership contest, is guilty of a terrible prejudice. There is nothing wrong with sex without the intention to procreate. People who don’t have children should not be treated any differently by the taxman, the welfare state or wider society.

Secondly, parents have a responsibility to give their children a decent upbringing. In the developed world, this means spending sufficient time educating them (schools do not teach everything), giving them a balanced and interesting diet, enriching their cultural faculties (appreciation for music, drama etc), and being reasonably generous towards them. If you are too poor or busy to give your children a proper life, it is irresponsible to have children anyway, on the basis that it’s your right to and that the state should pick up the tab. The right-wing British press is full of stories of people having children to claim welfare. And while many of these stories are sensationalised, they do contain an element of truth.

The environmental impact of a rising population is impossible to ignore. Climate change isn’t the result of overpopulation per se, but it doesn’t help when per capita consumption and carbon emissions are so high. For this reason, I would advise against having high numbers of children, even if you can afford it. Although we’re making progress in ecological policies like recycling and renewable energy, the rate of progress cannot yet offset the consequences of a rapidly rising and increasingly healthy population.

However, there are a few arguments in favour of having children. Of course, raising children is stressful. But it can also bring immense joy and happiness. Children can be good company during your working years, and can look after you in old age. On balance, Epicurus’ hedonism could easily justify having children, particularly if their absence if causing you pain and loneliness.

Children can also improve one’s morality and human qualities. Raising them teaches kindness, generosity, humility, selflessness, patience, etc. In a world filled with an inordinate amount of violence and suffering, children teach us the value of innocence, and that often ignorance is bliss. We should always aim for our children to be better people than ourselves.

Finally, I hope the secular liberals who read Epicurus Today have a decent number of children. Worldwide, the religious conservatives are outbreeding the socially liberal and the non-religious. So despite high numbers of people raised in religious families de-converting, particularly in the West, the world as a whole is getting more religious. As a secular liberal myself, I find this trend very worrying. In Israel, higher birthrates amongst ultra-Orthodox Jews is pushing the country to the right and making peace less likely. I would very much like that trend to be reversed.

Overall, I don’t think that having children is inherently un-Epicurean. If done well, having a small number of children can be a wonderful thing. I would only advise that like all good utilitarians, you consider the consequences for yourself, your country and the planet before you become a parent.

A calamity in the making, part 2

Hyman Minski, an economist, created the “financial instability hypothesis”. Financial systems – and the free market economies that rest on them – are by nature unstable, tending towards what he called “Ponzi finance”.

In good times companies take on too much debt, and that gets them into trouble when profits fall. They then sell assets to pay the interest on debt, causing asset prices to fall, triggering more forced sales. This ends in market panic.

Today, corporate credit is at an all-time high, and the stock market is booming. It’s true that some safeguards put it place after 2008 made the banks safer, but Trump has walked back many of the consumer protections, and anti-trust has faded away. Since 2008 the basic philosophy behind the financial system hasn’t changed: greed is good and the driver of wealth, companies are there solely to benefit shareholders, executives can plunder the profits, workers are expendable, taxes are there to be avoided at all costs, and to hell with contributing to society. Meanwhile the financial sector wags the dog and is no longer a simple service industry but a monolith, killing regulation and installing industry officials in top regulatory positions. In short, the system that brought us 2008 hasn’t changed, or not changed enough to prevent recurrent crashes. Epicurus would be appalled.

Prepare for the next crash. It is coming soon, spurred on by sub- prime car loans and by the free market fundamentalists who have the ear of the President. (Inspired by and partly reproduced from, a wonderful and recommended article by Steven Pearlstein in the Washington Post, September 9, 2018)

What has this to do with Epicureanism? Think peace of mind, happiness, opportunity, and stable, cooperating and reasonably equal societies.

Correction

Dubitator, a blog reader, has politely drawn my attention to an error in my posting on September 13th about the Emperor Aurelius. He is right. Aurelius was a famous Stoic, not an Epicurean. (One maybe shouldn’t resume posting so quickly after a hospital operation!) In any case the words of Aurelius are wise, regardless of labels. Thank you, Dubitator!

Non- Disparagement Agreements

Some of the people who appear on American TV, or who are quoted in articles about President Trump, have signed non-disclosure agreements that oblige signers not to disparage Trump personally, or members of his family. Some versions provide for financial penalties, others are comprehensive in terms of Trump’s political, social and financial affairs. So the question is: when these people appear on TV are they being honest, or are they lauding Trump because they cannot legally do otherwise?

In the interests of transparency shouldn’t all media organisations now preface every broadcast by a Trump operative by stating that they have signed an NDA, where appropriate? Then the reader or the audience would be better informed as to where the interviewee is coming from. (Fear being one emotion).

We have no idea how many people there are who have signed these NDAs, (although the anonymous critic in the New York Times may have signed one, which explains his anonymity). NDAs have been described as “common” and “very normal” for this administration.

The NDA chills free speech and in all probability contravenes the First Amendment. It is what you expect in a tin-pot dictatorship. A robust, self-confident man with nothing much to hide wouldn’t feel the need for it. Is the President’s amour propre so fragile that he cannot bear criticism of the mildest kind? What precisely is he concealing, and how much of it should be public knowledge? (Information obtained from article by Paul Farhi, Washington Post, 12 September 2018)

Lying

“Injustice is a kind of blasphemy. Nature designed rational beings for each other’s sake: to help, not harm, one another, as they deserve. To lie is to blaspheme, too. Because “nature” means the nature of what is. And that which is and that which is the case are closely linked, so that nature is synonymous with truth – the source of all true things.

“To lie deliberately is to blaspheme – the liar commits deceit, and thus injustice. And likewise to lie without realizing it, because the involuntary liar disrupts the harmony of nature. Nature gave him the means to distinguish between the true and false, and he neglected them and now can’t tell the difference”.

(9.1) “The Decent Life” (9.1) from the philosopher Emperor, Marcus Aurelius, the Epicurean Roman Emperor